Unusual adventures and hidden discoveries. Explore our 2018 trips now »

Pasadena, California

The Bubble House

An Airy Would-Be Solution to a Housing Shortage. 

America in the years after World War II had a problem. There were too many people and not enough houses, as the Baby Boom and mass migration to the suburbs began to swamp existing housing inventory. Wallace Neff, the legendary architect of Pickfair and other luxury homes for Hollywood luminaries such as Groucho Marx and Judy Garland, thought he found a solution in the shape of the bubble.

By inflating a giant rubber balloon, covering it with wire mesh and gunite, and then deflating it, Neff was able to produce what he termed an “Airform” house in 48 hours. He began to inflate bubble houses in the United States and all over the world, believing that the open-plan structures would eventually catch on and become the industry standard for home construction. Americans, however, wanted little to do with an open-plan home with curved walls. Out of a planned 400,000 homes, less than 3,000 were built.

The final remaining Bubble House in the United States is here in Pasadena, where Neff lived out his last years with his brother. When he died in 1982, the Bubble House had become just an unusual footnote in the life of the inventor of the California Style of architecture.